John Rodgers, Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor from 1923 to 1925, left to command the Navy’s historical flight between the West Coast and Hawaiʻi.
On August 31, 1925, Rodgers and his crew left San Francisco to attempt the first flight across the Pacific Ocean from the Mainland US to Hawaiʻi. The seaplane was forced to land in the ocean after running out of fuel, about 365 miles from Oʻahu.
After three days of waiting to be picked up, the crew crafted sails from the wings of the plane and sailed toward Hawaiʻi. On the tenth day, they spotted Kauaʻi. Ten miles off shore they met a submarine which towed them safely to shore.
(Rodgers lived only one year after the Hawaiian flight. While serving as the Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, he was killed in a single engine plane crash in the Delaware River near the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia on August 27, 1926.)
In response to the growing demand to accommodate aviation presence, the Territorial Legislature appropriated funds for the acquisition and improvement of an airport and/or landing field on the Island of Oʻahu, within a reasonable distance of Honolulu.
According to the Act, Territorial Treasury funds needed to be matched with private funding; the Chamber of Commerce raised the matching money from local businessmen.
From these funds, about 119-acres of fast (dry) land and 766-acres of submerged land were purchased from the SM Damon Estate as an airport site.
John Rodgers Airport (named in honor of Rodgers) was dedicated March 21, 1927 and placed under the jurisdiction of the Territorial Aeronautical Commission – then, construction began.
In 1929, a runway 250-300 feet wide and 2,050-feet long was completed as well as considerable clearing on the balance of the area.
Over the next few years, the facility faced various stages of expansion, on land and in the water – the layout included a combined airport and Seadrome, with seaplane runways in Keʻehi Lagoon adjacent to John Rodgers Airport.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, all airports were taken over by the US armed forces. The Army Corps of Engineers began to build four runways at John Rodgers Airport which would become Naval Air Station Honolulu (NAS 29) and home base for an Army and Navy Air Transport Command.
Dredged material from the seaplane runway was used to fill some of the submerged land and raise the elevation of the airport to about eight feet. The land area was increased from about 200-acres to more than 1,000-acres. Over the years, the facilities expanded.
The Navy completed construction of a terminal building, control tower and maintenance hangars for land planes operated by the Naval Air Transport Services. On the north side of the field, the Navy built the Naval Air Station Honolulu to support the Naval Air Transport operations and to house about 5,000-men.
The airport was officially designated as Naval Air Station Honolulu, with the primary mission of maintaining and operating a base for Naval Air Transport Units, Pacific Wing. During the war years, John Rodgers Airport was also home base for the Naval Utility Flight Unit, Naval Air Transport Service, 1522d AAF Base Unit, 15th Air Service Squadron and 19th Troop Carrier Squadron.
Full scale operations commenced at US Naval Air Station Honolulu for both land and sea planes on April 1, 1944 (by the end of World War II the seaplane runways were obsolete.)
In 1946, John Rodgers Airport was one of the largest airports in the US and comprised over 4,000-acres. It had four paved land plane runways, 200 feet wide and with lengths varying from 6,200 linear feet to 7,650 linear feet. There were three seaplane runways, each 1,000 feet wide with an average length of approximately 2.7 miles.
Space for federal agencies was provided, including the CAA Control Tower, Airways Traffic Control and Communication Center. Also US Customs, US Immigration, US Department of Agriculture, US Public Health and US Weather Bureau.
John Rodgers Airport was returned to the Territory on October 1, 1946; the following year the name changed from John Rodgers Airport and Keʻehi Lagoon Seaplane Harbor to Honolulu Airport. In 1951, its name changed to Honolulu International Airport.
Recognizing the importance of making visitors welcome in Hawaiʻi, Lei Stands replaced cars and trucks, that previously had parked on the airport entry road.
Then, in 1953, Honolulu International Airport’s combine Hickam/Honolulu 13,097-foot runway was officially declared the longest runway in the world by the Airport Operators Council.
By 1959, most major airlines serving Hawaiʻi decided to purchase jet aircraft and have them in operation between Hawaiʻi and the mainland; the next expansion of the airport was timed to the schedules of the major airlines.
On February 5, 1959, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to mark construction to accommodate “jet age facility (that was) the first of our major public improvements when Hawaiʻi becomes a state” and “a facility which Hawaiʻi will be proud of.” (Governor William F Quinn) The first jet service from the mainland US and Hawaiʻi started later that year.
In 1962, Hawaiʻi Visitors Information Program was established to welcome passengers at Honolulu International Airport and Honolulu Harbor, to encourage travel to the Neighbor Islands, and to provide information and other help to airport and harbor visitors.
A Joint Use Agreement between Hickam AFB and Honolulu International Airport was signed in 1963. It specified that for the purpose of overall aerial and ground operation, Hickam AFB and HNL comprised a single airport complex.
Construction of the first phase of the long-awaited Reef Runway over the fringe reef began in 1972; the runway was completed and dedicated for use on October 14, 1977.
HNL (identifying Honolulu International Airport) is part of the 3-letter airport and 2-letter airline codes administered by the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association (IATA.) It was patterned after the National Weather Service 2-letter identification system, giving a seemingly endless 17,576-different combinations.
Honolulu got HNL; to ease the transition for existing airports, an X was placed after the 2-letter weather station code (i.e. Los Angeles became LAX, Portland became PDX and so on.) At the historic sand dune in Kitty Hawk, where the first flight occurred, the US National Parks Service maintains a tiny airstrip called FFA—First Flight Airport.
With little fanfare, Honolulu International Airport was renamed the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, honoring the state’s former US senator, effective April 27, 2017. (Lots of info here is from hawaii-gov.)